This Know and Grow Guide applies an intensive or square foot gardening method that allows you to produce the same quantity of food in only 25% of the space used in conventional row gardening. This guide is designed to provide easy to understand information in a short, concise manner using charts and pre-planned designs. We wish you a bountiful harvest, may you have many happy hours in your garden and "happy gardening."
Section I: The Know & Grow Guide
Step 1. Garden Location: Selecting the proper site for your garden
A. Light - Maximum light equals maximum growth, pick a location that gets 6-8 hours full sunlight daily.
B. Drainage - A gentle slope, a slight turtleback or bow equals better drainage and less wet feet for your garden plants. Water should not sit in your garden for more than an hour after watering or a rainfall. A raised bed can solve drainage problems by raising your garden from low areas.
C. . Raised Beds - Generally 3 to 4 feet wide beds enable you to comfortably reach in from either side to plant, maintain, and harvest from your garden. The Raised Garden allows for better and easier soil preparation, resulting in efficient use of soil amendments and providing an ideal environment for vegetable and flower growth. Due to close spacing, plants compete for available water and nutrients so an adequate supply of each must be provided. In addition to a fertile soil high in organic matter (described later in Chap. 4 - Garden Soil Amenders), water-soluble fertilizer and irrigation are beneficial.
Step 2. Choosing Plants and Design:
E. Prepare an inventory of plants you wish to grow or eat.
F. Divide your plant list by cold season and warm season plants. General Garden Information - column H -Best Growing Weather.
G. Refer to the Frost Chart to find your area’s last spring frost, and then use the General Garden Information chart (column L) to determine when it's safe to plant each crop. For example: Tomatoes (warm season) in Baltimore (last frost March 28) are planted 3 weeks after the last frost, which would be April 18. Another Example: Lettuce (cool season) in Baltimore would be planted 2 weeks before the last frost, or March 14.
H. Choose one of the pre-planned** gardens or refer to warm and cool season information on the General Garden Information chart column H (Best Growing Weather) to design your own garden.
By using the Plant Friends and Enemies chart you can interchange plants that coexist together by height and compatibility. Plant as many of any plants you wish to grow spacing them according to Column B in the General Garden Information Chart.
Step 3. Purchasing Plants:
Remember, plants take space to grow whether planted from seeds or from transplants. Using your garden design to determine how many plants you will need, refer to General Garden Information (column B - Plant Spacing), and the Plant Spacing Diagram Guide to see how many plants per sq. ft. you will need.
Transplants and seeds may be purchased from home and garden centers or garden seed catalogs. If you choose to start transplants from seed, refer to General Garden Information (column I - Weeks from Seed to Transplant Size). Crops best grown from transplants include: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cabbages, collards, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc. Crops best grown from direct seeding: carrots, beets, cucumber, squash, melon, beans, corn, etc. (see General Garden Information column J for more).
A NOTE TO THE NOVICE: Whenever possible, start your first Garden with purchased transplants. If you choose to plant seeds, always read the back of the seed packet before planting.
Step 4. Amending your soil:
Your goal in amending garden soil is to achieve a loose, friable, fertile, well-drained, humus soil. To loosen garden soil in a freestanding Garden, add organic matter, in the form of finished compost or sphagnum peat moss, to create a soil which, when squeezed into a ball, crumbles when the ball is broken. Start by laying a 2 inch thick layer of organic material over the garden soil and work into the soil to at least an 8 inch depth by mixing with a spade shovel. Coarse sand or perlite may be incorporated at the same time to improve drainage.
A sticky garden soil indicates a high content of clay particles (often with poor drainage), while a soil that will not hold together indicates too much sand and an inability to hold adequate water. (Garden Soil Amenders)
For a raised bed garden, a mixture of garden soil blended with organic matter, such as sphagnum peat moss and/or well-rotted compost, and coarse or sharp sand or perlite at a ratio of 3 parts garden soil: 3 parts organic matter: 1 part sand or perlite, makes an evenly drained soil with nutrient holding capacity. If garden soil is not available, purchase screened or bagged top soil (3 cubic feet per bag) from your home or garden center. A 4 foot wide, 8 foot long, 6-inch deep raised bed requires a little more than 16 cubic feet of garden mix to fill the bed. Sphagnum peat moss comes in several different size bales, 4.5, 5, and 6 cubic feet bales and granular perlite is available by the cubic foot. Coarse or sharp sand is available by the cubic yard or in 50 to 100 pound bags.
NON-RAISED BED GARDEN: To reduce the potential of weeds in a non-raised bed Garden, strip out or remove existing grass (sod) or other plants BEFORE adding any amendments including organic matter, sand, and fertilizer or working the soil.
RAISED BED GARDEN: To reduce weed potential in a Garden built directly on existing sod, install the border of your raised bed garden and then cover the grass inside the bed with landscape fabric or 5 layers of newspaper. The landscape fabric or paper will inhibit the emergence of the existing grass through the growing media prepared from soil blended as recommended above. I recommend building a 2 level raised garden if grass will not be removed.
Items described in this chapter are recommendations to help save garden space, precious time and back breaking energy.
Anchor and Stacking Joints enable you to easily connect 2” x 6” lumber so you can build Raised Gardens easily. The uniquely designed Stacking Joint rotates to any angle from 60 to 180 degrees, is stackable, and enables the gardener to create a raised bed garden with better drainage and contain soil neatly in any given area. An added benefit to raised bed gardening, in the springtime, the soil warms earlier resulting in earlier, positive gardening experiences.
Season Extender Kit
The Season Extender Blanket, an extremely light-weight, spun fiber cloth, is used to extend the growing season by protecting young transplants and seedlings from frost in the spring and to protect mature, fruiting plants from early frost in the fall. The system is easily installed by sliding hoops into the stakes of your stacking joints and then blanketing the hoops with the Season Extender Blanket making a greenhouse environment for plants. Use the provided clips to fasten the blanket to the hoops and sideboards and use the anchoring pins to anchor the blanket to the soil.
An added benefit to using the Season Extender Kit is insect protection. Cucurbits, like squash, melon, and cucumber covered with the Season Extender blanket during the time when the adult of the squash vine borer enters the garden to lay eggs can virtually eliminate the problem. To insure pollination and fruit set of cucurbits, remove the blanket when both male and female flowers begin opening.
The Grow'em-Up TeePee enables you to grow tomato vines, pole beans, cucumber vines or morning glory in 75% less space on a 25 sq.ft. surface of extra strength teepee netting. The teepee poles are constructed of sunlight protected high strength PVC.
Drip Irrigation/"Soaker" Hose
Water, the number one component to successful gardening, is a must for plant growth. The installation of a drip irrigation or "soaker" hose system, available at home, hardware and garden centers, can provide essential water for germination of seeds, establishing transplants, flowering and setting fruit, and better flavor during the ripening process. Adequate moisture on a timely basis (both systems can be automated) reduces tomato splitting and undersized fruit. A drip irrigation system delivers water at the roots of the plant, not on its foliage, thus reducing disease problems. Installation of a drip or soaker hose irrigation system can insure success whether used in a freestanding garden or Raised Garden.
Moisture Holding Polymers
Soils, in Raised Beds, window boxes, planters, or freestanding gardens need help in retaining precious moisture, particularly on a sunny, windy day. Under these conditions, plants often wilt and die. Moisture holding polymers, sold under several popular trade names, can be mixed with the soil at planting time to increase the soil’s ability to hold moisture. In dry form, polymers are white, crystalline granules which absorb hundreds of times their weight in water, making them a "water reservoir" ready to release water to soil as it dries. Read and follow label directions when using moisture holding polymers. We also recommend that the polymer not be used when planting seeds as the polymer may push the seeds out of the soil as it fills with water.
The principles of intensive gardening employ maximum results in a given garden space, often very limited. Compared to traditional gardening of growing in rows with walkways and lots of space between plants, your intensive garden takes advantage of every square inch of garden space. In the traditional garden, what grows in the walkways and between plants? Weeds! Your Space Saver Garden means better yields with less labor and less wasted space. Imagine growing a garden in as much as 75% less space.
An Intensive Garden requires planning to maximize the use of time and space. Before planting, consult the General Garden Information Chart to learn the interrelationship of plants. Learn their sun/shade tolerance, cool/warm season planting requirements, height/spacing relationship, and nutrient/water demands. Use the pre-planned designs or design your own, but always "Plan Before You Plant."
The following tips are techniques you can use to maximize the rewards you will reap from your Garden.
Raised Bed Gardens
Raised Bed Garden constructed with our Anchor and Stacking Joints and wood or our Composite Plastic Timbers are the foundation for an intensive garden system. The raised bed creates a garden that warms earlier in spring, drains better, and confines garden soil making it easier to amend and work with year to year. There is no wasted space for walkways between rows, and plants are grown closer together to reduce drying and weeds and increase productivity per square foot.
Though freestanding raised beds 4 feet wide and 8 feet long are discussed in this manual, beds can be customized to any size or shape desired including multi-level terraced gardens. You be the creator.
When constructing raised bed sides, pay particular attention to the type of wood selected. Western red cedar, redwood and our Composite Plastic Timbers are long lasting and should be one and one-half inch in thickness to provide sufficient strength.
Once the sides of your Raised Garden are installed, cover any existing sod with landscape fabric or 5 layers of newsprint to prevent grass from becoming weeds. Then fill the beds with the prepared blend as recommended in Amending Your Soil (chapter 4). Add other amendments like lime or sulfur to adjust the soil pH (test the soil mix for pH before adding lime or sulfur-a test kit can be purchased at most local garden centers). Also add an organic fertilizer to provide slow release nutrients and, if desired, the moisture holding polymer granules discussed in Chapter 2. If the soil has been properly amended, it will be easily spaded in the raised bed each spring during garden preparation.
Tomato vines, pole beans, climbing peas, and/or cucumbers, in fact any plant that creeps, crawls, or vines takes up precious space in any garden. Grown in a Space Saver Garden System with a Veggie Wall Kit, you can have all these plants in 75% less space when compared to traditional gardening practices. Growing plants in the vertical position enables the plants to receive maximum sunlight while taking up far less space. By growing upwards, plants are also far less susceptible to disease problems. And, it should be noted that some plants intertwine into the support netting, some have tendrils for clinging, and some may need your help by tying them to the support netting.
Keep in mind that a shadow is cast when growing plants vertically so plan to grow shade-tolerant plants at its base. See General Garden Information Chart, column D - Partial Shade Tolerance.
To get the most from your Raised Garden throughout the entire gardening season, be prepared to plant new crops where others have matured. It's a practice known as "succession" planting. Check your Raised Garden plan to determine where and when crops mature. For example, as spring planted sweet peas mature, pull out the spent vines and plant a delicious crop of delicately flavored summer and fall spinach. In place of the spring leaf lettuce and red or white radish, plant summer lima or bush beans from seed. A late summer planting of lettuce and radish seeds produce delicious crops as the air temperatures cool in the fall.
Tips for "succession" planting:
Purchase seeds for each succession crop during the spring because the seed racks may be empty at planting time. By planning for "succession" planting your Raised Garden will have little or no empty, unproductive space.
Recondition the soil when the mature crop has been removed by cultivating to a depth of 6 to 8 inches and by adding essential nutrients before planting the "succession" crop.
If transplants are in order for replacing a maturing crop, start seeds indoors to maximize efficiency in your Raised Garden. A new crop should be ready to take the place of the crop being removed. See General Garden Information, column I - Weeks from Seed to Transplant and column J - Best Planted in Garden by Seed or Transplant.
Planting crops by season is another form of "succession" planting. Warm season (summer) crops (beans, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers) follow cool season (spring) crops (broccoli, lettuce, peas), and where possible, additional cool-season plants (red and green cabbage, Brussels sprouts, collards), or even a winter cover crop.
Remember, the goal of your Raised Garden is to have little or no empty space all year long. Note that later planted "succession" crops mature faster than earlier planted ones because growing conditions, mostly light intensity, and air and soil temperature, are more favorable. And, to really maximize productivity, remove plants once their initial flush of bearing is over. Don't forget to recondition the soil for the new plants.
Another unique asset of your Raised Garden is its ability to support growing of two or more types of vegetables in the same space. This gardening technique is known as interplanting. Before interplanting, consider compatibility of the species being grown. See Plant Friends and Enemies Chart. Consider the maturity date for each species. You do not want to pull out a mature plant by the roots while its neighbor is flowering or producing fruit as it may stress the other plant. Other considerations: height of plant (tall or short)-see General Growing Information Chart (column C); light, (column D); nutrient demand, (column E); and moisture requirements, (column F). Do not interplant species which require considerable moisture with those that appreciate a dryer soil condition. Interplanting allows you to increase the diversity of varieties per square foot of your Raised Garden.
Avoid crowding when interplanting. Crowded plants lose their vigor, yield poorly and are more subject to diseases. To avoid crowding, plant fast-growing plants like radishes and lettuce at the base of slow-growing plants like tomatoes. At the time when tomato plants are bearing, lettuce or radishes will be harvested. Another interplanting suggestion: vining squash, melons, or cucumbers can be directly sown by seed between trellised pea plants which are actively growing from early spring planting. As the peas are harvested, the cucumber, melon or squash vines will grow enough to take over the trellis. Caution: Do not pull the pea vines from the soil as this would disturb the roots of the actively growing vines.
Soil preparation and its improvements provide more benefits than any other gardening practice. The better your soil, the better your gardening results will be. Not only will you grow a larger harvest, you'll grow healthier plants which in turn resist insects, pests and diseases. By using a Raised Garden, which allows the gardener to concentrate efforts to improve soil composition in a small area, good growing soil can be achieved in less time with much less labor than it would take to attain good soil in a traditional row garden.
The following soil amenders will help you create and maintain a healthy soil for your Raised Garden.
Known as "Gardener's Black Gold," compost is the backbone of a rich, friable soil. The end product of decaying organic matter, humic acid, gives soil its dark, rich color, enhances bacterial action, increases nutrient holding capacity, improves drainage, and acts as the cement which holds soil particles together as well as apart. Compost, available in 3 cubic foot bags from most garden and home centers, is also available in many communities from compost recycling operations.
To make your own compost, construct a compost bin in your garden where garden and kitchen refuse can be recycled. A bin can be made with our Anchor and Stacking Joints, or purchased as a prefab kit from home and garden centers. The secret ingredients for successful composting include a balance of organic matter, moisture, oxygen, and bacteria. The organic matter includes everything from the yard and garden except tomato, eggplant and pepper foliage and stems, and cucumber, melon, and squash leaves and vines. These plants may contain diseases which you do not want to add to compost or soil. Grass clippings, fallen leaves, and even small twigs can be composted. Kitchen scraps like lettuce and cabbage leaves, turnip peals, carrot scrapings, coffee grounds, and egg shells may be added to the compost pile. Do not add bone, grease or meat drippings as they can draw rodents.
To decompose organic matter (the smaller the piece, the better), bacteria, moisture and oxygen must be present. To each new layer of organic matter added to the pile, spread several shovels full of garden soil (soil contains the needed bacteria to inoculate the organic matter) over the layer and add water to thoroughly moisten the organic matter. Turning the pile will speed decomposition but is not absolutely necessary.
Peat Moss (Sphagnum Moss)
Sphagnum peat moss is a renewable resource which is the decomposed remains of sphagnum mosses and other bog plants that have been compressed for thousands of years at the bottoms of bogs and swamps. It is decidedly acidic, normally in a range of pH 3.5 to 5, holds moisture well, provides bulk to soil mixes, is fairly lightweight and relatively inexpensive to buy. Peat moss betters the structure of clay type soils by improving aeration and slowly releases moisture, important in light, sandy soils.
A gardener's best friend, manure enriches soil with organic matter and provides small quantities of nutrition. It releases its nutrients into the soil on both an immediate and an extended basis, helping crops grow steadily throughout the season. Raw manure, taken straight from an animal should be composted or prepared in soil 3-6 months prior to planting so not to burn plant roots.
Dried or Dehydrated Manure
Commonly purchased in bags at home and garden centers and nurseries, dehydrated or dried manure can be worked, as is, into the soil. Planting of seeds and transplants can begin immediately without burning of plant roots.
Perlite is pure white, gritty, porous heat treated volcanic rock, sterile, and essentially neutral in pH (7.0 to 7.5). With such characteristics, perlite is used to improve aeration and drainage of potting and planter mixes and other poorly drained soils. It does not deteriorate or decay in the soil. Perlite is available bagged by the cubic foot from home and garden centers.
Vermiculite is a mica-like ore subjected to very intensive heat until it expands forming thousands of layers of a porous material. It is lightweight and works well with all soil types, tremendously improving soil's friability and capacity to hold water. It is not recommended as an additive to poorly drained or naturally wet sand.
Sharp or coarse sand (not beach sand as it may contain salt) is incorporated into raised bed mixes or freestanding garden soils to improve drainage and aeration. Bagged coarse or sharp sand is available from builders supply and home and garden centers.
Lime is used to correct acidic soil conditions. It is applied to soils to raise soil pH. While most vegetables grow best in slightly acidic soils, too much lime can make the soil too alkaline thus reducing the availability of some nutrients and retarding plant growth. Before adding lime, consider all other alternatives to enriching your soil and test its pH content prior to adding.
Lime is available as ground limestone, pulverized limestone, and pelletized limestone (pulverized limestone particles which have been glued into a manageable size.)
Has the opposite effect of lime on soil, sulfur is used to lower pH of soil. Again, before adding sulfur to your soil, test the soil pH to see if its pH is too high and then add accordingly.
Features a high concentration (9-14%) of readily soluble nitrogen, quickly available to the plant. The usual rate of application, 2 to 3 lbs. per 100 sq.ft., also acts as a rabbit repellent.
Kelp is a nutrient-rich form of seaweed. It supplies over 40 major and micronutrients, improves soil texture and tilth, helps retain moisture, and improves resistance to pests and diseases. Kelp meal should be incorporated into the soil during the fall for benefit during the following growing season.
Glauconite, a rich source of over 32 micronutrients, loosens clay soils and improves water and nutrient retention in sandy soils. An excellent but somewhat expensive source of potassium. (0-0-7)
Provides a source of calcium and sulfur for soil without changing the soil pH. Gypsum is recommended for application to poorly drained soils to improve aeration and drainage.
Applied sparingly, wood ashes are a rich source of calcium (acting similar to lime in adjusting the soil pH) and provide a soluble source of potash. It also supplies micronutrients.
The links below connect to downloadable PDF charts from our website. Please feel free to download as many as you’d like.